Trisha Brown's Drawings
Trisha Brown's work can be divided into different phases, and what to expect from a Brown piece depends on which cycle it is from. In the beginning, she stripped dance to its essentials, ditching the traditional supports of story, music, emotion, technique, even setting. Consequently, her first "equipment pieces" looked very un-dancey. They simply played with gravity or space, for example by using harnesses to enable the dancers to walk sideways along walls.
Without plot or music, she needed to find other compositional structures. One way was to create a gameplan. Rulegame No 5 (1964), had five dancers in seven rows; the rule was that each dancer could only move between rows when everyone in front was lower than in the row behind. The mechanism was simple, but the patterns produced were complex. Watching these patterns emerge can give you a real kick.
Brown's "mathematic" series used addition and multiplication as principles. Accumulation (1971), for example, built up a gradually extending sequence of gestural units. And as the dancers began to articulate their bodies more, they began to look more "dancey" – though again, it's the pattern that delivers the punch. Brown's "unstable molecular structure" works are among her most distinctive, and aptly named: watching them makes you wonder if you're watching particles of matter (dancers) or waves of energy (choreography). Set and Reset (1983) is the most famous of these, also Brown's first piece to music, a thrilling combination of rigorous rules and chance encounters, the dancers slipping fluidly around each other in a rippling forcefield of motion.
In the late 80s, Brown moved on to what she calls her "valiant" cycle, with pieces such as Newark (1987). Out went fluidity, in came force, mass, effort (she was inspired by heaving furniture around her studio). Because this was very hard on the dancers ("they were barfing backstage") Brown went back to a more minimalist style – her "back to zero" – with gentler and more allusive gestures. Surprisingly, Brown then began choreographing to existing music: first to Bach, in M.O. (1995), and Webern in Twelve Ton Rose (1996) – both composers whose formal rigour attracted her – and then, even more surprisingly, to opera, for example Monteverdi's Orfeo (1998). She has also choreographed to modern jazz.
There are some commonalities overall. Brown has always been a compositional choreographer; pay attention to the architecture of the dance, because she can be a master builder. As far as dancing style goes, she's developed a kind of highly articulated body that looks deceptively casual, even off-hand. She likes coming at gravity from an angle (tilts and tips are a speciality). She enjoys choreographing in and out of the wings, giving a sense that the proscenium is simply a viewfinder onto a larger world. She also has a very understated but very wry sense of humour; watch out for it.
Brown's great friend and artistic collaborator was artist Robert Rauschenberg, who was part of the Judson group. He worked on several designs for her, and even composed one of her scores (for If You Couldn't See Me, 1994).
Notable among other collaborators are musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson, and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton.
Diane Madden was one of Brown's most trusted dancers; Stephen Petronio, now a choreographer in his own right, was Brown's first male dancer, in 1979.
Other Judson choreographers include Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, Twyla Tharp, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton and David Gordon.